Shadows House ‒ Episode 3

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What are shadows? Or rather, Shadows? We're only on episode three of Shadows House, but the answer to that question already looks as if it may be troubling. Emilico is still learning her way around the Shadow mansion, guided primarily by Mia, but this week her first lesson is interrupted by the ringing of the alarm bell, a sound that informs living dolls that there's a “phantom” or a “scorch” about. Those words are frightening enough before we learn that they both refer to animated soot that has gathered in large enough quantities to become animated, and not in a friendly way.

The implications of this are not good. We already know that strong emotions (classified as “bad” in this episode, which suggests that any extreme feeling is not considered good) can cause the Shadows to emit soot, but previous to this episode the assumption was that the living dolls were meant to clean assiduously just to keep the house, well, clean. But now that assumption turns out to be far too innocuous, because when there's too much soot, it gains sentience, becoming either scorches (smaller accumulations) or phantoms, a fabled larger soot monster that none of the dolls in Emilico's group have ever actually seen. That's probably a good thing, because the scorches are plenty dangerous all on their own – not only do they scamper about like evil versions of Miyazaki's soot sprites, if they land on a living doll, they can kill her and control her body.

That's almost what happens to Rosemary; protecting Emilico, she becomes consumed by a scorch, which promptly covers her entire head and sprouts spider legs, leaving Rosemary's body to dangle like a hanged man. That Rosemary could actually die from this is suggested by Mia's reaction to it – she says that Rosemary will “hang” if they don't do anything, and she doesn't seem to be using the term as a metaphor for being punished. It's also clear that the “soot sickness” that overtakes Rosemary after Emilico's quick-thinking frees her is caused by breathing in the scorch – her skin is bluish and she's moaning like a zombie, meaning that the inhaled soot is simultaneously controlling and killing her; that in itself suggests that the living dolls are not “dolls” at all, because living or not, no doll needs to breathe in order to survive. This implication is also present when Emilico mentions that she can't read yet and Mia tells her that she was “born” knowing how to, raising the possibility that the living dolls undergo some sort of process transforming them from people into dolls. Mia simply managed to retain different memories from her previous life than Emilico did.

This brings to mind lines from Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 1: “No, no, I am but shadow of myself:/You are deceived, my substance is not here;/For what you see is but the smallest part...” It seems increasingly likely that the living dolls are, in fact, but the shadows of themselves, the smallest part of who they once were, their substance gone. Whoever Lord Grandfather, who breathes life into the dolls, is, he's probably not entirely human himself, and Kate's newly discovered ability to manipulate soot speaks to an idea that the Shadows are not the human beings in this situation. But then why is it so important to convince Emilico that she and the others are living dolls? What makes it worth the trouble to come up with a reason why “dolls” can age, as they clearly can? There's definitely something rotten in the Shadow House.

I began to wonder last week what role the names of the characters may play in all of this. Sarah, whom we met last week, is the mistress of Mia, after all, and the name “Sarah” means “princess” while “Mia” can be the feminine possessive in several romance languages, meaning that Sarah named her living doll “mine.” Given that the name “Emily” means “rival” (and “Emilico” could be read as “little or child rival”), I think maybe we ought to be paying attention.

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Shadows House is currently streaming on Funimation.

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